6 things I learned from quitting my job and traveling the world for three months with no backup plan.
Well this is it. Three months ago, I got on a plane to Thailand with a tiny backpack, a one way ticket, and no plans other than to be home for Christmas. And 24 hours from now, I’ll be leaving from The Philippines and going back to New York City. I had never done anything like this before, it was my first time traveling alone and my first time traveling for any real amount of time. Before this, travel to me meant going to a beach for 5 days and drowning in margaritas.
I know everyone who has ever traveled long term has an article like this one, but hey who am I to break tradition?
A brief background summary: I was working and living in Manhattan for the last 7 years. I changed careers from Wall Street to Corporate Wellness about three years ago. In August of 2016, I decided to quit. My lease was up at my apartment, and my job involved an annual sales cycle that basically restarts in September. I could renewed everything to continue the cycle, I could have gotten a new apartment and a higher paying job, or I could leave it all behind and go on an adventure.
I had just read the Alchemist, and was inspired to take a risk. I couldn’t let go of what the main character kept saying to himself. Essentially: “I’ve always been a shepherd, and a good one, and I can always be a shepherd again, but there is this incredible personal journey in front of me, and I have to go for it.”
I felt the same way. I could always be a “shepherd” again. Why not take a risk and go on an adventure. It could be life-changing. Worst comes to worst, I’ll look for a new sales job in the city and go back to this life.
So I put in my notice, moved all of my stuff into my mom’s house in New Jersey, and bought my ticket to Thailand.
It is not an understatement when I say this was an experience of a lifetime, and the best 3 months of my life. I’ve visited 11 countries, trained at a Muay Thai camp, learned to surf, learned to cook, experienced new cultures and religions, partied with locals, saw incredible temples, stayed in a rice farming village, and met the most interesting and inspiring people. I’ve gained an unlimited amount of memories and experiences that words cannot really do justice to.
But perhaps the greatest gifts of all are the lessons you learn about yourself and about life. So here is my version of the things that you learn when you quit your job and travel:
1) The world is so big and it is not so scary
I think that more people were concerned for me than excited for me. Truthfully I was a little concerned myself. The media famously paints a very doom and gloom picture of things. And only a few weeks before I was set to go to Thailand, some alleged terrorist attacks had happened throughout the country. But then you get somewhere and you realize just how massive this planet it. It’s an indescribable feeling being on the other side of the world surrounded by strangers, it feels like you’re living a different life (because you are).
You hear about something bad happening in Thailand, but when you’re there you realize how improbable the chances are that something could happen to you. The media makes things sound scary and highlights everything bad. The media doesn’t send out alerts about a friendly man on the streets of Bangkok coming up to a kid from New York and showing him all of the things he should go see, and not asking for anything in return. They don’t tell you about the locals who invite you into their home for dinner. But these things happen all the time.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is an understatement. The world is huge, and the odds are astronomical that you would be right in the vicinity of something dangerous as it’s occurring. Couple that with being smart, not going places you shouldn’t alone at night, and being aware of your surroundings, and your safety is not really an issue. The biggest threat to your life here is the crazy traffic.
The people in Southeast Asia are also incredibly nice. Everyone is helpful and smiles at you. The most anyone really wants from you is for you to spend money at their little shop or food stand. I’ve been to 11 countries on this trip, and you know where I’ve felt the least safe in all of my life? New York City. Pretty much every day. But I do miss it!
2) Who do you get to be on the other side?
This question really resonates with me. It could also be phrased “What’s your freedom worth to you?” When things get tough, or you’re faced with a risk you have to decide to take, remind yourself what it’s all for. Who do you get to be if you endure this hardship? What live do you get to have if you make it through this? For me, my dream is to work for myself. To be financially and location independent. That’s who I get to be on the other side.
So, if I have to live with some uncertainty or take on a little bit of debt over the next few months to be that person, how is that not worth it? How is a lifetime of freedom not worth a few months of struggle? I feel fearless, and I feel like I can accomplish anything. I feel like I can take on any risk and when I look really closely at the worst case scenario, it always seems like a no-brainer. Your dreams are always worth going for. Who do you get to be on the other side?
3) Am I dying?
Yes. Yes I am. We all are. I’m not sure why my own mortality was such a strong theme during my trip, but it was. Pretty much everyone, and every animal really, is afraid to die. This topic could be written about for days. But for me it really boils down to the fact that I am going to die, and I only get one shot at this. The struggles that you went through won’t matter when you’re dead. Nor will all those years you spent toiling away at a job you hated. What will matter is that you can die without regrets, and that you spent your life trying to contribute to the world and make it a better place. I obviously haven’t “made it” yet, but I could seriously die tomorrow without regrets because I’m at least going for it.
4) You can do anything you set your mind to.
It sickens me to even write such a cliche, but it’s so true. I read a lot of personal development and business books, and there is one theme that probably comes up more than any other: Setting clearly defined goals for yourself, visualizing having achieved those goals, and then taking action towards them. People word this and package it and position it in all sorts of different ways, probably in an attempt to make it seem more unique or groundbreaking, but it all boils down to the same thing. And I don’t say this to take anything away from it or from the people that talk about it. I say it to reinforce how true and universal the concept is.
There was a time when this trip was just a dream, and dreaming it is what made it a reality for me. Everything starts out as a thought, and once you can harness the power of visualization and action to turn your thoughts into real things, you can do anything you want.
5) If you have your health and you have family and friends who love you, you don’t really need anything else.
This is another universal theme that comes up everywhere. I try to look for things that pop up in more than one place, that most successful people talk about, or that most studies acknowledge. There are opposing theories on most things in this world, but you would be pretty hard-pressed to find a book or a study that says “you’re better off if you don’t take care of your health” or “most people with zero friends feel happy and fulfilled”. The times when I truly felt the most alive and believed in myself the most on this trip were when I was also exercising, eating right, and meditating. When you stop doing these things, everything else tends to fall apart, and things seem gloomy.
Being away from my friends and family for this long also made me realize how important they are to me. Solitude is important for reflection and growth, but long term happiness is reliant on having people in your life that you love and that love you. I think that most digital nomads will come to a similar conclusion eventually. I’ve realized that my ultimate vision is not to live on the other side of the world, being far away from home while taking advantage of cheap cost of living and currency arbitrage. I actually want to live surrounded by my friends and family, and building a business that lets me do that, and live near my social groups on my own terms, is more important than building a business that lets me live in Bali full time (though Bali was one of my favorite spots and I can’t wait to go back).
6) Live purposefully.
The word purpose gets thrown around way too much lately. “You have to find your purpose”, “How to find your purpose in 3 easy steps”, “Studies show purpose leads to healthier life”. This freaks a lot of people out and makes them feel like failures if they don’t find it. The problem is that they think they have to find some absolutely incredible, super amazing, save all the babies, Gandhi and Mother Teresa-esque purpose in life. But I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is to find something that you can dig into and find purpose in. As long as it’s meaningful to you, and you have a goal in mind, that can be your purpose. This can, and should, change over time.
I used to think that all I wanted to do was lay in a hammock on a beach and drink out of a coconut all day. I thought this for years. It’s all i dreamed of when I was sitting in an office in Manhattan, trying not to yell at my boss. And then I quit my job and flew to Phuket and I did it (because I dreamed about it and made it happen, remember?). And do you know how long I felt enjoyment out of doing this? About half a day. Half a day of living what I thought was my dream life, and I realized it wasn’t for me. What I needed was a real purpose. For me, my purpose is just trying to build my business. It’s not the most noble cause in the world, though I do think it helps people. But just digging into it each day, trying to figure things out, and learning and building as I go along has given me far more enjoyment than those early days in the hammock did. Find something that you want to work on for now, and start working on it. What can you dig into that you find interesting? It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, it just has to be something you want to do. That’s really all you need to find purpose.
It’s hard to put the experience into words. It’s even harder to distill it’s advantages into six bullet points (then why did I do it?!). The three months flew by, as life tends to, but it also feels like my old life was an eternity ago. I almost don’t recognize the guy that lived and worked in Manhattan. Like did that really happen? Was that really me? Was that really only a few months ago?
The gift of long term, solo travel is one that everyone deserves. It’s been the greatest gift I have ever given myself. If you need any inspiration or help or have any questions, please reach out, I’d love to hear from you.
Now, onto the next adventure.
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